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15 September 2007

lessons in inter-language communications

ok, it's like this. the dayshift foreman is puerto rican and speaks both spanish and english; the nightshift foreman is puerto rican and speaks only spanish; the site lead on days is american but can speak spanish fairly fluently; i'm american, and speak english. look at that if you missed it. it seems to make more sense to put the dayshift foreman on nights with me since he can speak english, and put the night foreman on days so he can communicate with the site lead.

let's call the nightshift foreman, TheAngel (that's pronounced in the spanish form of "The ON hell"). if you don't travel internationally often, i suppose these may not be inherent, but i've learned a few things that might help. keep in mind that these rules work both when you are trying to speak their language to facilitate communication, and when you have no clue how to say it in their language, so you have to use your native language. when it comes to speaking with someone of a different language:
  1. speak slowly. this is the cardinal rule. this post is inspired by having to deal with spanish-speakers, but this rule generalizes to all languages. speak slowly and clearly, and only try correct pronunciation, that is using an accent, if what you said wasn't understood the first time. take your time and gather your words as best you can first. you have to keep in mind that the person you are speaking with will need time process and translate what you are saying on the fly.
  2. simplify what you are going to say. it's a simple rule to follow. example, don't say "kitten" say "little cat". "little" and "cat" are far more likely to have been learned or overheard than "kitten". this also goes for conjugation. if you don't REALLY remember or understand the conjugation of the verbs (-ing, -ed, etc.) use the infinitive (to ...). the sentence might sounds a wee bit goofy, but you got your point across. look up the conjugations later.
  3. try your best to think of words that might sound similar. i know this sounds stupid, but it can work wonderfully either through the etymology of the word, word association, or sheer luck. i'll give you several examples, respectively.
    • example (etymology): "soldador" is spanish for "welder". looking at the root of the word (before i knew the meaning), i saw "solder", welding is a form of soldering using harder metals, so i made the leap... correctly.
    • example (word association): i found out that the word for "warehouse" in turkish is roughly "magazine". well, a magazine stores bullets, a warehouse stores items. word linked. also, spanish for "technical drawing" is "plana", that sounds a lot like a plan to me, like a floor plan. word linked.
    • example (sheer luck): if you know absolutely no spanish, you try putting an "o" on the end of words. i know it sounds stupid, and don't take it TOO far, but it works on occasion, if it doesn't get you the word, it might get you close. if you want to say "cat", try "cat-o". luckily enough, that sounds like "gato", the spanish word for "cat"
  4. don't be afraid to use gestures or sounds. you can mime "big", "little", "round", "straight ahead", etc. if you don't know the word, these work sufficiently. if you don't know how to say "cat", then meow. if it gets the point across, then it's worth it, and charades is fun.
  5. if all else fails, and i hate to say it, follow their lead. if you didn't catch a word they said, but they are laughing at the end, laugh away. if they are looking for an answer, give a non-committal smile, a shrug of the shoulders... "i don't know". if that's not the answer they are looking for, walk away, get around a corner, and then run, RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN to get away from the situation. yeah, it'll be a little awkward next time you run into them, but you can always use the "diarrhea" excuse. that pretty much translates in all languages.

again, this post is inspired by talking to spanish-speakers. TheAngel doesn't follow a single one of these rules, and it drive me nuts. i took 3 years of spanish 11 years ago, i'm worse than rusty, i speak spanish on a retarded 4-year old's level. TheAngel doesn't even TRY to speak english, so i'm having to make the effort. i think the only english word he knows is "shit!".

as far as the rules go, 1 is out the window. he's puerto rican, after all. i have a theory about spanish speakers, and it goes like this. write down a standard sentence (in english) with several nouns, a verb or two, and some adjectives. now, translate that into spanish right below it. do you see physically how much longer the spanish sentence is? i don't think spanish-speakers talk so fast just to do it, i think they are trying to convey the same amount of information as us in the same amount of time. in order to do that, they have to increase their words/minute rate. TheAngel doesn't know how to speak slowly, at all. he has two speeds... incomprehensibly fast, and sleeping.

he destroys rule 2 with playful abandon. yesterday, i asked "es las soldadores trabajo?", roughly "are the welders working?". i said this slowly and deliberately so he could figure out what i was saying since i knew the grammar was probably deplorable, but the thought was conveyed. he replied, "something-what-the-fukkity-ando blahdy-blahdy-soldadores-guacamole-idad..." for about 2 minutes. i had no clue what he said, but i have a sneaking suspicion he gave me the long-guarded secret to his family's special paella, and it has something to do with rum-soaked garbanzo beans and crushed ecstasy. i mean, he could've said "si" or "no" or something, but he complicated it. like i said, playful abandon.

rule 3, finding words that sounds similar... he might be trying, but how the hell would i know, he talks so damn fast, yeah, whatever.

i've tried to impress upon him the importance of rule 4. i say "no comprendo", a lot, and i learned "lento (slow)", but that doesn't work. he just repeats his idea using more and more unintelligible words at an ever faster pace. it's painful, because he doesn't get that, in my head, i've already given up man, i tried, i short-circuited, i MIGHT be developing a cerebral hemorrhage from trying so hard, but it's no use.

i've had to invoke rule 5 on more than one occasion. it's worked successfully so far. sometimes, when i do the laugh-and-nod thing, he'll actually add something to the story that i can pick up from context clues so i actually have a glimmer of what he was talking about, but it is rare. good news though, i haven't had to use the "diarrhea" escape yet. i think i would have to call this a successful outage if i can avoid that type of escape.

well, i hope you learned something from this little lesson. if you have any questions, feel free to contact me on further inter-lingual communication etiquette. my "door-o" is always open.

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Blogger thedaughter2 said...

This was hilarious! I feel for ya brother! Try "no comprendo DICKHEAD" maybe he'll take the hint...
love ya!

4:49 PM, September 15, 2007  

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